Topic: Regulation
News
Oct. 20, 2017

Issi Romem, buildzoom.com's chief economist has made a valuable contribution to the growing literature on the severe unaffordability of housing in a number of US metropolitan areas. The disparities between the severely unaffordable metropolitan areas (read San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Miami, New York, Boston, Sacramento and Riverside-San Bernardino) and the many more affordable areas in America are described in

"Paying For Dirt: Where Have Home Values Detached From Construction Costs". Romem points out that: "In the expensive U.S. coastal metros, home prices have detached from construction costs and can be almost four times as high as the cost of rebuilding existing structures." "Paying for dirt" refers to the ballooning land costs that now comprise an unprecedented part of house values, such as in the severely unaffordable metropolitan markets above. This has created an environment where affordability is impossible. In many of these metropolitan areas, a modest house commands an exorbitant price well beyond the financial capacity of most middle income households. Land has become so expensive that it doesn't matter what is built on it, whether the average house or a tent, the price will be too high. The market distortions are so great that Romem is able to show that, for example, the average house value in Columbus, Ohio, a delightful metropolitan area, is less than the average land value per lot in Portland (Oregon).

News
Oct. 20, 2017

When California’s Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 10-year extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program this summer, it was heralded as a rebuke of President Trump, who had just announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. While the nation was failing on climate change, the story went, states could succeed. The trouble is that California could leak—like a sieve.

In the decade since Mr. Brown’s predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, first signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, the cap-and-trade program has done little to abate carbon emissions, let alone planetary warming. Under the law, companies in California that emit carbon in their production processes must secure scarce permits for the right to do so. The theory is that this creates an incentive to invest in green power and energy efficiency.

Yet the law’s designers still have not confronted the central conundrum of trying to impose a state or regional climate policy: As firms compete for a limited supply of carbon permits, they are put at a disadvantage to out-of-state rivals. Production flees the state, taking jobs and tax revenues with it. Emissions “leak” outside California’s cap to other jurisdictions.

News
Oct. 19, 2017

The United States slipped one spot to eighth in the most recent iteration of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. The Index ranks countries based on how supportive their economies and regulatory frameworks are to starting and operating a local firm. For the United States, the report uses a population-weighted score for Los Angeles and New York City. A decade ago the United States ranked third, behind only perennial top-two finishers Singapore and New Zealand, but in this year’s Index it also ranked behind Denmark, Hong Kong, South Korea, Norway, and the United Kingdom

News
Oct. 16, 2017

ven now, after Scott Pruitt’s EPA move to unravel President Obama’s marquee domestic green initiative, the Clean Power Plan, American energy-related emissions are projected to drop in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). So what’s at work here? If the Trump Administration is so skeptical of climate policy, why aren’t the projections matching the doomsday rhetoric? In large part, what’s happened to U.S. emissions since their recent peak in 2007 has occurred despite—not because—of federal policy.

The Clean Power Plan was never put into place, as it was still working its way through legal challenges before Pruitt announced his intention to dismantle it. Therefore, we can’t give President Obama’s green aspirations credit for this recent drop in emissions.

Instead, the drop occurred due to market forces, specifically the displacement of coal-fired power generation by cheap, plentiful natural gas provided by the shale boom. Fracking’s flourishing has made our dirtiest form of electricity production less economical, and because natural gas plants emits half as much carbon as their coal counterparts, this shift has also made our energy mix more climate friendly.

News
Oct. 9, 2017

The U.S. enjoys a giant trade surplus in scrap, including household recycling, says the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. According to the trade group’s chief economist, Joe Pickard : “We’re like the Saudi Arabia of scrap.”

Now there’s a heap of trouble confronting America’s separators of paper and plastic: The biggest buyer of the stuff doesn’t want it anymore.

. . . The U.S. is the top producer of waste, according to the World Bank, and Americans have been doing a pretty good job recycling some of that. Curbside-recycling volumes have tripled since the late 1980s, surpassing 89 million tons in 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest figures.

What most Americans don’t know is that after workers pick up and sort their recycling, a good deal travels halfway around the world. The U.S. exported $16.5 billion in scrap last year, the scrap institute says, more than any other country. Paper and plastic were about $3.9 billion of that.

Over two-thirds of America’s wastepaper exports and more than 40% of its discarded-plastic exports ended up in China last year, the scrap institute says. Paper and plastic scrap exports to mainland China topped $2.2 billion—that’s more than exports to China of wheat, rice, corn, meat, dairy and vegetables combined, U.S. census data show.

In July, China filed a notice with the World Trade Organization about its plans to limit the entry of “foreign waste.” Even before that, starting this spring, scrap shippers say, some Chinese customers hadn’t been able to renew their import licenses.

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Nov. 17, 2017 / Andrew Khouri

Nov. 17, 2017 / The Editorial Board